Malmström says EU-US trade talks can survive Brexit

Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmström highlighted that if EU cannot strike a deal with Canada, "I don´t think we can make it with the UK". [European Commission]

The European Union’s top trade official said on Wednesday (29 June) that she is still aiming to complete negotiations for a sweeping free trade deal with the United States this year, despite Britain’s vote last week to leave the 28-nation bloc.

EU Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmström said her team is pressing ahead with talks over the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership and is still negotiating on behalf of Britain as a member state, a condition that will continue for perhaps more than two years as London negotiates an exit.

“We will do whatever we can to make sure that we make as much progress as possible in the coming month, and, if possible, conclude it before the Obama administration leaves office,” Malmström said at an Atlantic Council event in Washington. “That is still the ‘Plan A’ and that has not changed even if the (British) referendum is there.”

Trade experts have said that Britain’s looming departure from the EU will dash hopes for completing TTIP in the final months of Obama’s term, cutting out Europe’s second-largest economy and diverting attention and political capital to sorting out the UK-EU relationship.

But Malmström insisted that the TTIP deal would survive the Brexit decision. She met on Tuesday with US Trade Representative Michael Froman in Washington to make preparations for the 14th round of TTIP negotiations in Brussels starting 11 July.

“There are a lot of uncertainties related to Brexit. We can’t answer them now we will have to wait until we see a clearer picture,” she said. “But for now and for the immediate future, the United Kingdom is a member of the European Union, and we negotiate this on behalf of all 28 members.”

EU prime ministers and heads of state on Tuesday (28 June) affirmed that the bloc’s trade agenda, which includes TTIP and a number of other prospective trade deals, would continue.

She said EU negotiators who are British citizens will continue to participate in the talks, adding, “They do not work for the UK, they work for the European Union and they will stay.”

Negotiations between the United States and the European Union to forge an ambitious Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) started in July 2013.

If successful, the deal would cover more than 40% of global GDP and account for large shares of world trade and foreign direct investment. The EU-US trade relationship is already the biggest in the world. Traded goods and services between the two partners are worth €2 billion daily.

But the path to reach an acceptable deal is not without hurdles. Citizens all over Europe are petitioning against TTIP and CETA, the newly agreed Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement with Canada.

Brussels and Washington had initially set an ambitious goal of completing negotiations by the end of 2015, a target it already missed. Negotiators are now hoping to conclude talks before the end Barack Obama's mandate as US President, on 19 January 2017.

TTIP for dummies

In the wake of the global economic crisis and the deadlocked Doha round of international trade talks, the EU and the United States started negotiating a Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, which seeks to go beyond traditional trade deals and create a genuine transatlantic single market. But the road ahead is paved with hurdles.

  • 11 July: 14th round of TTIP negotiations in Brussels
  • End 2016: Target date to conclude TTIP negotiations

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